‘Berta took a few moments rest after her efforts. She took a few deep breaths of the promised free air and thought it pleasantly smoky. She watched the others emerge from the tunnel squinting in the strong light. It took a little while to get everyone out and ‘Berta couldn’t help wondering exactly how much time they would have before their escape was discovered. Clearly Bibron was equally worried. He posted lookouts immediately but then returned to the hole to help the rest. So far the noise of their egress did not seem to have attracted attention.
Of those already free most of them followed ‘Berta’s lead and took the opportunity to get their breath and calm down a little after the perceived threat of the passageway and the tunnel; but there were a few among them who were all for getting away immediately. A big man called Scortha was their leader.
“What are we waiting for? Let’s go. We’ve got to get out of here before they notice we’re gone. We should make for those hills in the eastern end…”
Garaid was outraged. “Now, just hang on a minute. Not everyone’s out yet,” he growled, “and don’t you think we should wait for Angren?”
“What the hell for? I didn’t ask him to go scouting: it’s his look out if we’re gone when he gets back.”
“Listen here, you scumbag, it’s down to Angren and a few others that we’re out of there. I didn’t notice you volunteering to help.”
“Why bother volunteering when the arrogant bastard wanted to do it all by himself?”
‘Berta decided that it would be a good idea to stop resting and take a stroll. She took a stroll towards Scortha and Garaid wondering whether she’d be in time to prevent the fight.
“Arrogant bastard, you reckon,” snarled Garaid.
“On the nail. He might be a friend of yours but I’m not going to waste time waiting for that Aegardean shit.”
Bibron had sidled up alongside Garaid. ‘Berta wondered which of the three of them would start it.
“Tell me, Scortha,” Bibron said in a steady voice, “Let’s say we go now and don’t wait for Angren. How far do you think you’re going to get before the Halfi realise we’re gone? Not far I guess. And where exactly are you going to? So far we haven’t a clue which way’s up and which way’s down. So how long do you think it’s going take ‘em to track us down if we’re wandering around like witless fools?”
‘Berta grinned. If Bibron really was trying to act the peacemaker he might have left out the “witless fools” bit. Scortha didn’t seem too impressed.
“What’s witless, Farber, is hanging around here waiting to get caught again. We just need to get away from here as fast as possible, head for somewhere we can defend ourselves.”
“Oh and then what?”
“Figure out a way of getting off the Island.”
“You gormless clod,” said Bibron, now somehow forgetting that he was trying to calm things down, “what were you thinking of: hitching a lift on a cloud? What we need is weapons, food and a boat in that order. And what we don’t need is an idiot like you telling us what to do. So why don’t you just shut it?”
Scortha was not easily cowed.
“Shut it yourself. I don’t know who you think you are: you might have been the Captain when we were on the River but here on Tumboll you’re just a fat bastard I don’t have to listen to, alright?”
It took the efforts of both Garaid and ‘Berta to keep them apart but the furious argument that followed only came to an end when Angren and Ruspa came rushing back to see what was going on.
“What the buggering hell are you lot trying to do? We could hear you squabbling half a mile away. You might be interested to know that there’s a village just on the other side of those trees, and right next to that the gates to the compound we’ve just escaped from. Anyone’d think you lot want to get back in there. Now listen…”
He stopped, looking over their heads at the mound behind them that covered over the roof of the passageway. The quickest of them spun to look just as the two young boys Angren had spotted whisked off into the undergrowth.
“After them,” yelled one of Scortha’s supporters and some were ready to go but Angren shouted them down:
“Stay where you are.” He was incensed. “For Gods’ sakes! They’re just children.”
“But they’ll give us away.”
“It doesn’t matter: we’re off anyway. Right now! We’re going to attack the village – don’t worry, it’s nearly deserted by the look of it. There’s about twenty huts, big moot house in the middle. Now we’ll need weapons if we’re going to get out of here…
“As I was saying,” put in the Captain, “An’ food an’all…”
“And the only way we’re going to get either is if we go in and take them. I reckon we go in fast, and we go in hard.”
Garaid at this moment clambered out of the passage with the iron bars of the gate gathered in his brawny arms.
“Here then,” he said to Angren,” I reckon you might need one of these.”
“No thanks, give it to ‘Berta” Angren replied, fumbling with the belt to his trousers, “I already have something to scare them wi…”
‘Berta guffawed and Sigrid squawked with laughter. “What, down your trousers?” she said, “Well it certainly scares me.”
“That I will remember. Actually I was thinking of this.” And out came the whippy sword he had described to Garaid back in the compound. ‘Berta was amazed but others, she could tell, were envious. It was going to be difficult for them all but worse for some: a quick weapon count found them a few more hidden daggers but nothing much else.
As they got themselves ready for the off ‘Berta took a moment to look at them all. They were an odd crew: men and women already bloodied and bruised, some of them experienced warriors, some plainly not. She saw faces set in grim determination and faces pale with terror. Few of them, she guessed, had any real hope of survival. A good job they had people like Angren and Bibron and herself then. Angren looked at her as though guessing her thoughts.
“So,” he said, “Time to be doing. Those with the iron bars in the lead with me, knifemen second up and the rest of you get anything you can: belts, rope, wooden staves, anything you can pick up on the way, even if it’s just a pocketful of pebbles. Let’s go.”
Next is Demonography (b)
Wilf Kelleher Jones
A Song of Ages
21/02/2012 wkj fantasy